Thunder-Trail Blazers Preview
Mired in a nine-game overall skid, the Trail Blazers look to avoid a seventh straight home defeat and a season sweep at the hands of the Western Conference-leading Thunder on Friday night.
If missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season wasn't bad enough, Portland (33-45) is in the midst of its longest overall losing stretch since dropping 11 in a row March 14-April 2, 2006. The current slide also includes a six-game skid at home to match the longest such drought in the club's history.
Attempting to end both losing streaks likely won't be easy against Oklahoma City (58-21), which has won six in a row overall against the Trail Blazers and three straight at the Rose Garden. The Thunder moved one-half game ahead of San Antonio in the race for the top seed in the West with a 116-97 win at playoff-bound Golden State on Thursday.
Oklahoma City has won two straight, eight of 10, and just concluded a 5-1 stretch against teams above .500 or who have already clinched a playoff spot.
"Our approach was to embrace the challenge,'' Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "And I think our guys have done a good job of that.''
Now they must try to avoid a letdown against the Blazers, who fell to 0-4 on a five-game homestand after a 113-106 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. Though Portland totaled more than 98 points for the first time in six home contests, they allowed Kobe Bryant to score a season-high 47 and the Lakers to shoot 58.9 percent overall.
Though Portland opponents have averaged 108.3 points and shot 51.7 percent in the last nine games, coach Terry Stotts was happy with his team's latest performance.
"It was a very good effort by our team, but unfortunately we couldn't pull it out,'' he said.
With starters Wesley Matthews (ankle), J.J. Hickson (back) and Nicolas Batum (shoulder) all dealing with injuries that could keep them sidelined again Friday, the Trail Blazers continue to rely on guard Damian Lillard.
Averaging a rookie-best 19.1 points per contest, Lillard went toe-to-toe with Bryant and finished with a career-high 38 and added nine assists Wednesday.
"He's spectacular ... really fantastic,'' Bryant said of the sixth overall pick. "A lot of players get hot, but he's got the moves, patience, intelligence, the balance on his jumpers. He's the real deal.''
Lillard has averaged 16.3 points but shot 38.8 percent in three games versus Oklahoma City. He was held to nine on 3-of-14 shooting in the Trail Blazers' 87-83 home loss to the Thunder on Jan. 13.
Kevin Durant had 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists while Kevin Martin scored 23 off the bench as the Thunder shot 50.6 percent and outscored the Warriors 36-23 in the third quarter to pull away.
Durant has totaled 52 points on 16-of-26 shooting, 22 boards and 17 assists in his last two games. He's posted two double-doubles against the Trail Blazers this season and averaged 30.3 points and shot 54.4 percent in the last three at Portland.